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Esquire Adds 3-D Animation to Latest Issue

Esquire Adds 3-D Animation to Latest Issue

Photo: Esquire

Andrew Vanacore

NEW YORK – Hold Esquire’s December issue in front of a webcam, and an on-screen image of the magazine pops to life, letters flying off the cover. Shift and tilt the magazine, and the animation on the screen moves accordingly.

Robert Downey Jr. emerges out of the on-screen page in 3-D, offering half-improvised shtick on Esquire’s latest high-tech experiment for keeping print magazines relevant amid the digital onslaught.

Esquire’s top editors are clearly enthused about the new technology, called “augmented reality.”

“I felt like a caveman seeing fire for the first time,” says David Curcurito, the magazine’s art director.

Triggering the animation is a box just below Downey’s cover image, resembling a crossword puzzle and looking a little out of place. The magazine has printed about a half-dozen boxes inside the issue, each calling up a separate interactive feature, plus a couple of ads. The issue will be available nationally by Nov. 16.

At a fraught time for the magazine industry, one could draw a lot of conclusions from Esquire’s attempts at innovation: It may be the future of print or just a dying medium’s last desperate grab at attention as the Internet swallows more of peoples’ time.

With the Web drawing some ad dollars and readers from print, publishers have made various attempts to give more oomph to the medium. Time Inc. has tested personalized magazines that allow readers to mix and match sections from eight different titles. Entertainment Weekly ran a video screen in some copies of its fall TV preview issue. Last year, Esquire animated the front of its 75th anniversary edition with digital e-ink, the same stuff used in Amazon’s Kindle electronic-book reader.

Though Esquire is being forced to rein in expenses like most publications, the augmented reality issue is one sign the magazine’s parent company, Hearst Corp., isn’t taking as big an ax to its properties’ budgets. Hearst, a privately held company, publishes 14 other magazines, including Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan.

While declining to give out a dollar figure, Esquire Editor-in-Chief David Granger acknowledged the issue is costing more than usual to put together. The car maker Lexus is absorbing some of the expense by agreeing to buy space for two “augmented reality” advertisements in the issue. Granger said the magazine won’t be able to use the technology every month, but would like to as often as possible.

Economics aside, the technology is about keeping things fresh. As Granger and Curcurito spoke – both sporting Esquire-type gear, blue jeans and sport coats – it’s clear that ginning up new ways to get the magazine noticed is a job they enjoy.

“For us, it’s just fun,” Granger says. “We’ve tried all kinds of things – and yeah, some of them have been stunts – to try to get people interested in the magazine.”

He grabs the December issue from Curcurito to show off the next trick.